Comics are a visual medium, but so often criticism of the medium hinges on narrative, ignoring or minimizing the visual storytelling and unique structures that make comics so different from cinema and photography. We’ve decided to change that up with a feature that we’re calling Anatomy of a Page, in which we explore pages and panels that showcase the language of comics and how the best visual storytellers maximize the freedom of comics in order to tell stories that can’t be told anywhere else. This entry is on We Can Never Go Home, a new series from Black Mask Studios that has scripters Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon frequently giving Joshua Hood 25-panel pages to draw. In issue 4, on page 12, one of these 25-panel pages is devoted to an argument that stretches from one end of the car to the other, bookended by mirrored shots of the protagonists.
Have you ever had an argument with someone who felt like your only refuge? Have you ever had that argument in a car?
I bet that the way that argument felt was similar to the way that this page looks.
I would love to know artist Josh Hood’s exact reaction when he got to this page of Rosenberg and Kindlon’s script.We Can Never Go Home is heavy on pages with more than the rough norm of six-to-eight panels. Simple shots which could probably be accomplished in fewer panels often get split up into panels in which the perspective slowly rotates. Conversations are split up into a number of separately digestible pieces that keep the pace of the comic steady while allowing pages to be interesting.
Of course, this page is a little more of an outlier than others, clocking in at twenty-five panels.
As usual, give it up for the aspect shots: they break up what would otherwise be a droning repetition of shots cutting between speakers, but also serve a purpose fundamental to this sequence. If you’ve had the car argument with the one you love, especially at night, especially when you’re this young, then god damnit if that car doesn’t feel like your entire world. Everything that matters in the entire universe for the duration of a car argument between two young lovers happens in that damn car.
And do you see any shots outside of the car on this page? The only shots outside of the car that don’t look directly at either Madison or Duncan look directly at the side mirrors…which are reflecting Madison and Duncan.
Speaking of which, look how the page begins and ends. It starts with Duncan’s reflection in the driver-side mirror and traverses to Madison’s reflection in the passenger-side mirror. As if twenty-five panels inside of a car did not give you enough of a hint that everything in the world that mattered to these characters was happening within the car, the choice of the first and last panels makes it so that it literally takes twenty-three narrative beats to traverse the width of the car.
Of course, the choice to start on one side of the car and take like three pages worth of panels to get to the other is really about the distance that Madison and Duncan feel from each other. A car is small, but in such a critical moment when you have nowhere else to go and nobody else to go to, the tension and the hurt associated with feeling so far away from someone so close really is palpable. And it’s certainly palpable for the reader when it takes so many panels to get from one side of the car to the other.
Many other artists and scriptwriters would opt for the traditional wide-angle, page-width panel where the characters are at opposite ends of the page, staring off in silence. This is just as effective and packages the full impact of the argument into a single, entertaining page.
Austin Lanari is a recovering philosopher who can never catch up with any of the goddamn anime he wants to watch. He disgorges comicy thoughts and criticism for Comic Bastards and on his own blog. You can read those thoughts and less on Twitter @AustinLanari.